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The science of ego: Why rejection helps my startup

When I was in my last year of high school, I auditioned for a performing arts school in Sydney for once I finished my HSC instead of planning on going to Uni. I found out in June that I was accepted into the course and therefore was able to coast through the rest of the year with minimal effort, knowing that whatever my results were, I was not going to have to worry about the “what was I going to do next year” question as all of my classmates would.

In fact, right throughout high school, when I look back on it now, I was lulled into a false sense of security about life – I was one of the luckier kids, in that I pretty much always got what I wanted when it came to marks, roles in the school musical, school prefect – it all just worked out, I never knew rejection.

My first real taste of rejection came once I was living in Sydney, had left performing arts school, had an agent and was going on auditions. I got on really well with my agent, so I asked her to relay to me any feedback ever given to me after an audition nasty or otherwise – the industry is notorious for sugar coating feedback, giving actors a diluted version of what was actually said.

My first rejection came from a BBQ Shapes TVC audition, which I still don’t understand why I was so shit, especially since BBQ Shape eating is my thing. But the casting director hated my look and nasal voice enough that I was blacklisted from ever getting another audition with her again.

From then on, it was literally rejection after rejection, SO much rejection it was actually depressing, across a 12 month period I had a couple of high’s getting a TV commercial here and a 50 word spot there, but on the whole, my portfolio of acting gigs wouldn’t really make for interesting reading.

It was after this year at the beginning of 2006 that I discovered sales. I got a job in a call centre where the client was a major Telco. In the training, the company stressed the need for making sales – it was a service with an up sell play. After training, when we got on the phones I quickly became one of the highest selling people at the centre, and it was not because I was better at selling or had more product knowledge than anybody else at that company, but because I was accustomed to improvising (through acting) and comfortable with rejection.

Whilst rejection does not feel good, and it’s easy to take it personally, especially when you own the business and have spent months or years building a product or service – I believe that it is necessary in order to be sustainably successful in the startup space.

When you mix rejection and ego you get a business and life that looks like this:



However when you choose to take ego out of the equation (and it’s not the easiest thing to do) you will start to see rejection as an opportunity to reflect, seek feedback and re-jig your product / your pitch / your sales style / your sales materials or whatever it is that is holding you back. To take a word out of Mick Liubinskas’ vocabulary, you start to Flearn.

Rejection (1)


Starting a media business, as I have, has meant facing a lot of rejection when it comes to getting people to read our stuff, watch our stuff and buy advertising of our stuff. And though at times it has been extremely tough to listen to the word ‘no’ and build what is now just starting to turn into a viable business – if it wasn’t for the rejection I faced earlier on, I wouldn’t have had the sense to put in such strong foundations for the processes and systems within the business.

This is what our sales vs rejection ratio looks like at Shoe String Media right now:


Phone Call > Pitch > Rejection

Phone Call > Pitch > Follow up > Close > Rejection > Flearn

Phone Call > Pitch > Follow up > Close > Rejection > Flearn

Phone Call > Pitch > Follow up > Close > Rejection > Flearn

Phone Call > Pitch > Follow up > Close > Rejection > Flearn

Phone Call > Pitch > Follow up > Close > Rejection > Flearn

Phone Call > Pitch > Follow up > Close > Rejection > Flearn

Phone Call > Pitch > Follow up > Close > Rejection > Flearn

Phone Call > Pitch > Follow up > Close > Rejection > Flearn

Phone Call > Follow up > Close > Sale > SLEARN (What did you learn from that sale?)

Essentially I get one straight up rejection for every 10 calls I make that I will never get any kind of feedback from. Then I know that for the most part 8 of 10 calls / pitches I make will not turn into sales but I will learn something from all of them. My learnings can be broad, as in I should probably explain “x” better in my next call as the person did not seem to grasp what I was trying to relay – and it also could be something specific to that company, like “x company” are not interested now, but they mentioned in “y” month they will be looking to do “z” so that creates an opportunity to tailor a campaign for them and go in and pitch again, addressing the needs they raised today.

Then I know that 1 in 10 of my calls / pitches will result in a sale. But where many people make the mistake in sales, is by not taking time to reflect on the WHY – as in WHY was that sales pitch a success – it is then that we start to SLEARN – the more you embrace your rejections and learn from your sales – the less rejection you will inevitably start to face. The reason for that is because you won’t even approach the people most likely to reject you in the first place.

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